The Common Application released the essay prompts for the 2021-22 application cycle. This application will open in summer 2021 for students applying to enter college in Fall 2022. Considering the prompts now allows time for thinking about what you might include to best convey to an admissions reader why you are a strong applicant and an essential member of an incoming class.
Most of the essay prompts will remain the same, but Common App got rid of a prompt about dealing with a problem. Few students used this prompt. The new prompt centers around gratitude and kindness.
Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
I like this new option, because I sometimes see students who feel pressured to come up with a story of overcoming challenge. In some cases, this feels artificial, because they don’t feel that they have really faced significant life challenges yet. In other cases, writing about challenges becomes just that, a recounting of events and stumbling blocks rather than a clear presentation of the student’s characteristics and strengths.
There is no guideline in the new prompt for how big an event should be to be worthy of writing about. It might have been a small favor that had a big effect. Or it might be something that changed the direction of your life. The focus of the essay should be on your attributes and what you will bring as a college student rather than on a detailed account of what you are grateful for. Why did the event make you happy or thankful and how does that convey who you are as a person? What changed in you as a result of this interaction?
This is really advice for using any of the prompts. Keep the emphasis on you rather than on describing events or circumstances around you. What makes you interesting or unique? How have you changed or grown as a result of your life experience so far? What direction are you pointed towards now? Why will admitting you add to the campus community?
The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)
Don’t obsess over the prompts as anything more than just that – questions designed to help prompt you towards deeper thinking and writing in a way that gives admissions readers a better understanding of who you are as a person than they would get from just looking at grades and test scores. Your essays are your opportunity to control content and delivery. It is one of the few parts of the application you exert this much control over.
If the first six prompts don’t generate ideas, remember that Prompt 7 gives you the freedom to choose your own adventure. This is one reason I start my clients with pre-writing exercises that help them identify what they are trying to communicate – what their story is and what examples help convey it.
Essay coaching is included in each of my comprehensive packages. I am also working on a set of workshops on applications and essays that can be paired with a four-hour block of individual essay coaching as an a la carte option. Follow the Admissions Decrypted Facebook page to get announcements about this project and other college admissions updates.
If this is something you are interested in, let me know firstname.lastname@example.org